It could be a Bit of a Mess….
There were cautionary notes amid the fanfare for England’s 2015 World Cup when the schedules and venues were announced recently.
Foremost among them was the rebuff that the England Rugby 2015 organisers have received already from the two biggest and most iconic football stadiums in the country, Wembley and Old Trafford.
With the latter the main concern appeared to be damage to the pitch. At Wembley the problem is that they are more concerned with staging a foreign sport in American football, which has virtually no playing base in England, than they are with making a significant contribution to a global sporting event already deeply woven into the sporting fabric of this country.
However, where football administration can be fickle, their rugby counterparts have been shown on numerous occasions to be bordering on the incompetent. That is not a good mix.
The IRB have not helped England’s 2015 cause in securing football venues because of the way in which the original World Cup schedule, with the tournament due to start on September 4,was pushed two weeks later following pressure from the Southern Hemisphere SANZAR block.
This is a big mistake because not only would you have had easier access to football grounds because of the break due to football internationals, but you would probably have had better ground conditions.
The upshot has been a bonanza for the Millennium Stadium, which has been awarded eight matches, including two quarter-finals. One problem is that the last time anyone looked Cardiff was not in England.
Heads of agreement have been signed with each of the remaining football venues, though, crucially, the full contract stage has not been completed yet. There is also a rumour that the governing bodies of the clubs whose stadia are being used will not sign any binding guarantees until after their fixtures schedules are released – in June 2015.This is because their paymasters, the TV companies will not complete their fixture selections until then.
England 2015 naturally refute any suggestion that their venue agreements will be jeopardised, but for the credibility of the tournament they had better be right, or the £80m financial guarantee the RFU have made to the IRB could start to assume millstone proportions.
Already organisers are coming under pressure to raise average ticket prices after the loss of capacity. At the time of the bid in 2009 the RFU promised the cheapest ticket would be £7, rising to £75 for the semi-finals., on the basis it would sell 3 million tickets across 48 matches. It has emerged that the maximum number of saleable tickets has fallen to 2.65 million, with 2.3 million needing to be sold to satisfy the contract with the IRB.
To sell out, when the football season is in full swing, the organisers will need the rallying calls of the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio , the former England captain and tournament ambassador, to get “the whole country to be up on its feet.”
If there is one acid test in terms of pushing ticket sales it is probably New Zealand v Tonga on a Friday night in Newcastle. If that sells out within 15 minutes of tickets going on sale in 2014, then we can confidently expect the tournament to be a howling success.